Needs and shortcomings: Quake’s first response in northwestern Syria

A cross-border health aid provided by the World Health Organization to al-Rafah Hospital in Jindires town, northwestern Syria - February 18, 2023 (OCHA)

A cross-border health aid provided by the World Health Organization to al-Rafah Hospital in Jindires town, northwestern Syria - February 18, 2023 (OCHA)


Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa

The rescue agency, the Syria Civil Defense (SCD), announced on the first day after the earthquake that the northwestern region was a stricken area. Despite this, the arrival of UN and international aid was delayed until the fifth day of the disaster.

As the days passed and the magnitude of the effects of the “earthquake of the century” became evident, the aid received did not improve the situation of the afflicted.

More than 4,500 people died as a result of the earthquake in northwestern Syria, and more than 8,700 others were injured, according to data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), published on February 28.

As a result of the earthquake, about 40,000 families were displaced, while the number of completely destroyed buildings reached about 550, and more than 1,570 buildings were partially damaged, in addition to hundreds of cracked buildings, according to estimates by the White Helmets.

In this report, Enab Baladi sheds light on the current and future needs of the northwestern region of Syria in light of the great demands that were compounded by the earthquake.

Needs in numbers

Dozens of camps were established in response to the earthquake disaster after the displacement of thousands of people to add new camps to a long list of random camps in northwestern Syria and to burden the region with double needs.

The crisis worsened in those camps after the owners of houses that were not affected by the earthquake chose to stay in tents for fear of a new earthquake or aftershocks that could demolish the remaining houses.

Despite the absence of accurate statistics on the number of camps established in response to the earthquake, the Gloca organization counted the existence of 78 camps, most of which are in remote areas or those affected by the earthquake.

While organizations before the disaster were unable to meet the needs of the camp residents, today they are less able to fill the needs of about 2,943 additional tents, provide them with heating and blankets, and increase the number of toilets in the camps.

According to United Nations data, the UN’s Shelter and Non-Food Items sector estimates that there are 280,000 people directly affected by earthquakes and in urgent need of shelter and non-food items.

On the fifth day after the disaster, UN and other aid trucks began entering from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar in response to the earthquake victims in northwestern Syria, carrying food, medical and relief items such as tents.

Abdul Hakim al-Masri, Economy and Finance Minister in the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), told Enab Baladi that during the first days of the earthquake, aid from inside Syria, such as the cities of Azaz, Afrin, and al-Bab, reached the most affected areas.

After the fourth day, international relief organizations that previously worked in northern Syria continued to bring in routine, not emergency, aid for the earthquake victims, which contributed to securing food for the afflicted, according to al-Masri.

According to the UN Food Security and Livelihoods Sector, around 0.52 million people have been reached incrementally with meals since the start of the post-earthquake response.

Before the earthquake, the population of northwestern Syria was 4.6 million people, 4.1 million of whom were in need of assistance, and 3.3 million of them were food insecure, with 2.9 million internally displaced persons and 1.8 million people in camps, according to UN data

Al-Masri says that the most important current needs are in the field of shelter, including tents and blankets.

The need was aggravated after the second earthquake that struck southern Turkey and the region, as it contributed to increasing the fear of the people, especially the children who were unable to sleep at home, forcing the owners of undamaged buildings to request tents to sleep in near their houses.

A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck the Dafne area in the Turkish state of Hatay, and its impact reached northern Syria on February 20, where the damage was limited to injuries.

While the intensity of the first earthquake, on February 6, which struck Kahramanmaraş and northern Syria, was 7.6 magnitude. It was followed by another earthquake on the same day with a magnitude of 7.4.

Securing chronic medications and treating the children who survived the disaster physically is also an urgent need, especially for children who have psychological trauma and especially those who have lost a loved one.

The needs of the health sector in northwestern Syria amount to 15.7 million dollars, of which 6.7 million dollars are for the provision of medicines, and 0.7 million for mental health and psychosocial support, according to the World Health Organization.

The United Nations says that at least 55 health facilities have been damaged by earthquakes in northwestern Syria, and more than 110 health centers are in need of fuel or medicine.

The continuity of aftershocks affects the restoration movement in the area, as the residents are afraid of starting to rehabilitate the buildings with the non-stop aftershocks that could demolish the newly supported buildings, according to al-Masri, who pointed to the need to rehabilitate the affected infrastructure and roads.

Among the needs in which a future crisis is feared after the earthquake is wheat, as a result of the collapse of silos on the Turkish side, which will affect the availability of flour, but so far, there is no crisis, according to the Minister of Economy in the Interim Government.

Over 10,000 buildings were destroyed completely or partially in northwestern Syria by the earthquake, according to UN data.

The United Nations is calling for funding of $397.6 million to provide assistance to 4.9 million people with the most urgent humanitarian needs, and the funding covers an initial period of three months (until next May), while no less than 8.8 million people were affected by the earthquake, according to UN estimates. 

About 100 quake-affected families live in this tent in the Maarat Tamsrin town in Idlib countryside - February 21, 2023 (OCHA)

About 100 quake-affected families live in this tent in the Maarat Tamsrin town in Idlib countryside – February 21, 2023 (OCHA)

“Short period against great needs”

The modest UN response through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey continued until February 13, when the United Nations announced the possibility of delivering aid through two additional border crossings (Bab al-Salama and al-Rai) after being informed of the Syrian regime’s approval to open these crossings for a period of three months.

The Minister of Economy in the Interim Government, Abdul Hakim al-Masri, believes that this period may be sufficient to provide food baskets and set up some camps.

“However, what the region also needs is the rehabilitation of the infrastructure and the establishment of small projects for the population to reduce unemployment, support education, and contribute to the restoration of homes, as promised by the United Nations organizations,” he said.

Al-Masri believes that the mechanism of international aid to the region, which is limited to food, medical, and relief aid, should be changed to a development mechanism, which cannot be secured within three months in view of the great need for people, even before the earthquake, which requires that the crossings be always open.

As of March 3, 557 UN trucks entered from the al-Rai, Bab al-Salama, and Bab al-Hawa border crossings with Turkey.


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